Full Text: POTRAZ Dir. General’s speech at the launch of Child Online Safety Guidelines

   
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The Child Online Safety Guidelines were officially launched today. The framework was designed by Childline Zimbabwe in partnership with the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ).

The following is POTRAZ Director General Dr Gift. K. Machengeta’s speech at the event.

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Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a great privilege to be present here to witness the launch of Child Online Safety Guidelines developed by Childline Zimbabwe. As the Regulator of the Telecommunications sector it was an honour to partner with Childline in efforts to insulate children from the various vulnerabilities they are exposed to online and today we are witnessing the fruits of our labour.

The Internet has transformed how we live. It is entirely integrated into the lives of children and young people, making it impossible to consider the digital and physical worlds separately. One-third of all Internet users today are children and young people, and UNICEF estimates that 71 per cent of young people are already online. Furthermore, the COVID- 19 has validated the role that ICTs play in our day to day lives and more than ever before, children are using the internet socially and for e-learning services.

Whilst the Internet has brought about convenience owing to rapid digital transformation, it has also brought about a plethora of challenges. Children are exposed to various vulnerabilities and there has been an increase in the misuse of technology. Several children are accessing various sites even without their parents’ consent. We are providing these gadgets to children but they are accessing sites like tinder, house party, Instagram, Facebook and tiktok even without their parents/ guardian’s consent.

Some are exploited by others and become victims leading to cyberbullying, cyberstalking and Cybergrooming. Most are engaging in pornography and sexting but this has an effect as these pictures and videos are going viral. Some are sending too much information and pictures online for example on TikTok and they are exposing themselves and their families. Furthermore, we have seen a prevalence of obscene photos and videos on social media and this affects careers and the social being of a person.

Owing to the need to protect children online, The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in June 2020 revamped its Child Online Protection Guidelines to incorporate and stay abreast of the everchanging ICTs landscape and launched new guidelines which we are in the process of adopting. Whilst we are happy to launch these today, we must be cognisant of the fact that technology is disruptive and evolving hence we need to sustain these protection mechanisms in line with the International Standards which means we will continue launching as and when necessary. The ITU Child Online Protection (COP) guidelines provide a holistic approach to respond to all potential threats and harms children and young people may encounter online. It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children from these harms. Close monitoring would minimise issues of abuse, neglect, discrimination and exploitation of children. Key stakeholders for COP include Children and young people, parents, guardians and educators, Government Ministries, Industry and connectivity providers, Research and academia, Non-governmental organizations, Law enforcement, Health and Social Services and many others.

These newly developed COP Guidelines are important for all stakeholders to utilise them for the benefit of our children who are increasingly joining online services. Remember, these children are more vulnerable online since they are young and have little experiences. It is important to appreciate that some children are especially vulnerable, particularly migrant children or children living with a form of disability.

As POTRAZ we have held several consumer education and awareness campaigns around the country and owing to the lockdown restrictions we have not been able to conduct the popular roadshows but we have been conducting virtual campaigns on social media and all the national radio stations in the country. we are proud that Childline has also been conducting such campaigns on radio to complement our efforts. This partnership epitomises the collaboration that is needed in protecting consumers. We have been together in this journey with Childline and I would like to applaud them for the good work. Recently they approached us to facilitate a child toll-free helpline and we immediately wrote to our service providers and now children can call 116 if they need any help. The call centre is located here and has professional people manning it ready to help children anytime. We call upon all stakeholders to come and partner us in protecting consumers so that we protect the children who are the future of this country.

We are very thankful of the role that the Media has played as an important stakeholder. They have a role to promote awareness of these guidelines and all issues related to COP are best articulated by the media. They have been there with us and we hope they will continue to play this information dissemination role to raise awareness with governments, industry, educators, children and parents to ensure the African Child is safe and secure while online.

How can we ensure an effective Child Protection System online in Zimbabwe? It is now the right time Zimbabwe starts reflecting on the need to come up with a stand-alone legislation on COP. This requires will, Commitment, Funding, Education and awareness, Channel for reporting, Digital literacy and skills, Coordination among stakeholders and Research.

We also appreciate that most of these young people are still in school. A student may understand how to protect their own privacy and personal information online, but they must learn to extend those protections and respect to other students as well. True digital citizenship means that all users of technology—internet, social media, online games and more—can enjoy the benefits and opportunities of their online activities, without causing undue risk to their own welfare and safety and to that of others. For any school to thrive well in the world today, there has to be a lot of adjustment and re-tuning. This will lead to some critical steps taken in ensuring the school system is conducive for both the authorities, the community and the child.

Ladies and Gentlemen: In conclusion, Child online safety has become very important than ever before in this COVID-19 era and beyond. Parents/guardians need to be proactive and educate children to be careful when sharing information online especially with strangers, encouraging them not to accept invitations they are not sure about, if they are to meet their online friends, they should be accompanied by a parent or trusted adult. Additionally, keep your children in open areas of the home when they are using their devices, the computer should be properly protected, installed with antivirus, check your child’s browser history frequently and always observe the behavioural patterns of each child everyday so as to detect any signs of distress. Parents need to be actively involved in the online activities of children hence the need to be engaged through co-view and co-play by joining in with your child’s online activities as this presents an opportunity to openly discuss. Always remind them that WHATEVER GOES ONLINE STAYS ONLINE.

Dr Gift. K. Machengeta, POTRAZ, Director General (Delivered by POTRAZ Head of Consumer Affairs and Publicity George Manyaya)


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